White House Petition Calls for Kiera Wilmot’s Invite to Astronomy Night

In August, the White House announced its second Astronomy Night, where astronomers, engineers, and other leaders in science and space will talk to students and teachers about their experiences. Then they’ll stargaze on the White House lawn. It’s slated for October 19, and it's part of the Obama administration’s effort to promote careers in science and innovation.

Ahmed Muhamed will be there too. Last month, after the 14-year-old Texas student was arrested because school officials mistook his science project (a digital clock fashioned from a pencil case) for a bomb, the nation rallied behind Muhamed. He was extended offers to visit MIT and Harvard and attend high-profile events in the sciences, including Astronomy Night, for which the teen received an invitation from President Obama. 

But there's one young woman whom many believe should have also received an invite: Kiera Wilmot, the Florida teen who was arrested two years ago after conducting a volcano science project in her Polk County high-school hallway. On September 30, a White House petition was launched demanding Wilmot’s invitation.

“Kiera Wilmot should be invited to come to the White House on October 19th for Astronomy Night along with Ahmed Muhamed,” the petition states. “She has expressed an interest in attending the upcoming Astronomy Day and should be invited.”

This all began after New Times reached out to Wilmot to revisit her experience upon hearing Muhamed's story. Just eight days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Wilmot was handcuffed at school and led to a juvenile detention facility because she mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum in a water bottle at school. No one was harmed and no property was damaged, but Wilmot was charged with two felonies. 

She was shocked and saddened that students are still being arrested for showing an interest in science. But she told New Times that she can relate to Ahmed. Her story also received worldwide attention. “I know exactly what he’s going through,” Wilmot said. “It’s scary, but he has a lot of support. He is two years younger than I was when that happened, so he needs it, and I’m glad everyone is supporting him. But I wish I had all the support that Ahmed has.”

Whereas Muhamed has received offers to visit MIT, Harvard, and other high-profile science events, Wilmot disappeared after her story’s 15 minutes of fame had expired. Her charges were eventually dropped, but she says she still had to complete community service and undergo a psychiatric evaluation. She finished her junior year at an alternative school, and when she returned for her senior year, some students called her a terrorist. Applying to college was tense for Wilmot. She says she had to tick the box that asked if she had ever been arrested on applications and retell her story. “It really scared me. I thought no school was going to take me,” she said.

With the support of her twin sister, Wilmot has overcome the debacle. She’s now a sophomore at Florida Polytechnic University in Central Florida, majoring in mechanical engineering. Like Muhamed, she hopes to one day work for NASA. She says she would “love to attend Astronomy Night” but says no one has reached out to her. It would be a good opportunity to network with other leaders in science.

Others seemed to agree and took to Facebook and Twitter to show their support.
And two days later, a petition appeared on the White House site. It hasn’t garnered much traction, and only 46 people have signed (99,954 people short of the goal). And so far, Wilmot has yet to receive an invitation.

“I’ve had people contact me on my Facebook to express their support,” she says. “I've seen the petition, but I haven't heard anything yet from the president or anyone else asking me to come to Astronomy Night.”

New Times reached out to the organizers of Astronomy Night. We will update this post if we hear back.
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson